FMCSA Proposes New Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program
Proposed pilot program would allow 18-20 year old drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles
The nation’s leading accident lawyers weigh in on the under-21 commercial driver program
On September 4, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a new proposal. Under the proposed program, the FMCSA would allow 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). 49 states and the District of Columbia already permit drivers 18-20 with Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDL) to operate CMVs in-state. However, the proposed FMCSA program would enable these under-21 drivers to deliver goods across state lines. As of now, the under-21 commercial driver pilot program is still open for public comment and awaiting approval.
Eligible under-21 commercial drivers
The FMCSA’s proposed pilot program applies to two categories of drivers. Firstly, 18-20-year-old CDL-holders could operate CMVs in interstate commerce. However, to do so, they must participate in an initial 120-hour probationary period. Afterwards, they must also complete a subsequent 280 apprenticeship program with their employer. Alternatively, 19 and 20-year-old commercial drivers who operated CMVs for at least a year and 25,000 miles can skip the probation and apprenticeship periods. Notably, the under-21 commercial driver pilot program would not permit these young drivers to transport passengers or hazardous materials. In addition, 18-20-year-old drivers cannot drive special configuration vehicles.
The future of the under-21 commercial driver program
On November 9, 2020, the comment period for the FMCSA’s proposed commercial pilot program closed. At the moment, the future of the program is not clear. While a number of lawmakers voiced their support for the program, other groups disagree.
Opposition to the commercial driving pilot program
For example, the Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), one of the largest international truck unions, does not support the program. In a formal comment, OOIDA President & CEO Todd Spencer wrote that he opposed the pilot primarily for safety reasons. According to Spencer, “when it comes to highway safety, the data is clear – younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more.” On this basis, “OOIDA strongly opposes the proposed under-21 pilot program that would allow younger drivers to operate in interstate commerce.” However, OOIDA offers other reasons to reject the program beyond just the dangers of hiring young truck drivers. According to Spencer, the under-21 pilot proposal is merely the latest attempt to keep truck driver labor cheap.
Alternatives to the under-21 commercial driver pilot
While the OOIDA comments reject the proposed FMCSA program, they also offer ways to make it safer. For example, Spencer’s letter proposes that if Congress adopts the program, drivers who have been involved in a preventable crash should not be allowed to participate. He also suggests that the program include graduated time and operational restrictions, for example, a 250 mile driving radius limit.
Whether Congress will adopt, modify, or reject the under-21 commercial driver pilot remains unknown.
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